Following is a letter to Mark Margulies which was also sent to RAP in response to Mark's column Way Off The Mark in the October issue.
I am the General Manager of a radio station that frequently has commercial and promo material selected by Radio And Production for The Cassette--the monthly best of creative and production.
I am one of the few GMs in the business who came up from the programming side. I was an all-night jock, a Music Director, a Program Director, a morning man, etc.. There is a huge part of me that still yells, "Ya, right on!" with my fist in the air when I read articles like the one you wrote for the October 1996 RAP. But there is another side of me that gets saddened, when I see to whom the article is directed. You are preaching to the converted.
It's nice to invite every creative person at a station to copy this article and give it to every Account Exec and Sales Manager. But at the end of the day, I see the creative and production people redoing their exceptional creative, substituting "price and item" in a studio where a framed copy of your article hangs on the wall with the inscription, "We really showed them, didn't we."
There are two fundamental problems as I see them in the GMs big picture chair, and nothing will change until they are addressed and solved.
Problem One: If radio stations do not change the way they are paying their salespeople, all the good intentions in the world will evaporate into thin air when the rep walks out the door of the station to the "real world." People show up where they are rewarded to show up. Commissioned salespeople will show up on the side of the path of least resistance to the sale. The creative element is often seen as a roadblock getting in the way of ten to fifteen cents on the dollar in the eyes of the salesperson. While they may understand and have an appreciation for what you are trying to accomplish with creative, there is no tangible reward for behavior that is any different. If you want to focus sales on building strong relationships with clients, you must succeed in getting them weaned off the big hypodermic needle in the arm called commission. If you want them to sell creative, pay them to sell creative. I suggest you devote either this column or a whole future issue of RAP to address this issue.
Problem Two: Until the sales/creative and production departments begin to see themselves as one department, "marketing," the approach will be from opposite ends of the spectrum, as opposed to being on a kind of natural continuum. This, ultimately, is the challenge of the General Manager.
I asked CHEZ's Program Director for feedback on this letter, and he remarked perhaps sales and creative/production were destined to be two solitudes in any broadcasting organization. It is easy for all the players involved to slip back into their respective comfort zones. It is the responsibility of those holding on to the big picture to keep forcing people out of their comfortable frames of reference. It is not easy, because the GM probably wants to stay comfortable, too.
A first step would be to keep everyone in the conversation called "we are the marketing department." Lead by example, and you may produce the paradigm shift you desire.
Our Production Director suggests in his experience there are two kinds of Account Execs: Group 1: those who get turned on by the creative and know how to sell it; and Group 2: those who just sell by the numbers. In these days of nervous clients and tight deadlines, one shouldn't waste a lot of time on the price and item ad. Those can be handled by the Group 2 types, because "It's the client's money" after all. Concentrate your creative efforts on the Group 1 reps.
Our Creative Director says it's time salespeople started believing in radio creative and stopped selling the medium as if it were a car or vacuum cleaner.
Sales has to learn how creative works and is developed. Not only will sales build long-term relationships with clients, they will reap the financial rewards, too.
Creative will take pride knowing they put their finest work on the air and, most importantly, the listener stays for the breaks because they are entertaining and compelling.
Chuck Azzarello, President/GM
CHEZ-FM, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
I picked up the recent copy of RAP and in the "Letters" department saw the on-going battle between Sales and Production rise to new levels. After chuckling to myself for a couple of minutes, Joi Mosbarger's letter made me stop and think.
First off, the battle between Sales and Production has gone on since Marconi first wanted his Production Director to change a tag on a Sears and Roebuck commercial. This is, of course, nothing new. What is new, at least to me, is how little "broadcasters" have learned about not only our industry but human behavior as well over the decades.
In this "age of enlightenment" we still hang on to the same old fears our parents had. In this case, "why is everybody out to get me?" "Why do I have to change that spot? It was good enough!" Or the classic, "The client doesn't know what he or she is talking about...that spot is good enough to run in New York City!"
Having spent five years at the original Z-100, I can tell you there are many times we fought tooth and nail with the Account Executives about the quality of spots. Crazy Eddie immediately comes to mind. However, from the beginning of Z-100 in August of 1983, our first priority to our Sales Department was to go through the process one step at a time, remembering that the client was paying TOP DOLLAR for a sixty second spot on the Morning Zoo, and at least deserved the best service he could get for his grand.
Granted, in my early days at WMMS, WGAR, etc., I had been known to throw a cart or two against the wall after I had to recut something for the umpteenth time. Thank God I grew up, and thank God I quit taking myself and my talents too seriously. (The big reason WHY I left Z-100.)
Creative people need outlets. They also need constant reassurance. Account Executives need outlets. They too need constant reassurance, something that is lacking in today's mega-company radio industry. But more importantly, what both really need is to focus on the main objective. Keeping clients on the air with the best possible creative, and educating the clients with whatever tools are necessary.
In case we forgot, the radio industry has changed dramatically in the past few years. For the better or worse is not an argument worth the energy, because simply, that's the way things are. Strategies have to be changed. Egos have got to be checked on a daily basis, and cooperation between departments is necessary. Otherwise, you have mega-companies coming in and capitalizing on internal problems with stations and gobbling them up, only to spit out the irritants.
I know that just my small involvement with Jaycor in Columbus, Ohio has made me change quite a few things in my day-to-day operations. I spend probably double the time I used to with Account Executives on educating the clients to KEEP them on the air for our stations, with the objectives of getting them continuing results and still maintaining a "pinch" of creativity in their campaigns. Competition is too stiff right now, and even though a client can go "across the street" and get what he or she wants, mega-group owned stations cannot afford to lose any business.
My suggestion to Production Directors is simple. Reinvent your job. Take the time to look a few years down the road and see what benefits can be gained by changing your approach to your job. Instead of creating a spot or promo that you can masturbate over, create something that your client will relate to. Yes, flash does sell sometimes, but more often than not, it doesn't. We are totally inundated with flash via television and radio advertising. So unless you have the resources to "out do" Nike, get back to basics. Good spots are good spots. Where does a good spot come from? By listening to the client, not telling them what they "should" be doing. If you were an expert at running a car dealership, that's what you would be doing instead of producing commercials.
My suggestion to Account Executives is simple also. Reinvent YOUR job. Instead of spending all of your energies on getting some client's money for the fourth quarter to get YOUR figures up, work with your creative department on concepts that will KEEP your clients on the air for fifty-two weeks a year. This means listening to your clients as well.
This is all basic stuff, but in the age of mega-companies this is mandatory if you're going to accomplish anything. If you don't do it, you know there is another mega-company right around the corner who will swallow your station up and bring in people who CAN do it. We are all faced with a changing industry that has brought about a lot of shattered nerves. The goal should be to keep not only your clients happy, but to keep you and your co-workers happy also.
J.R. Nelson Productions